New laws are needed all the time to reflect the changes in social conventions and what society considers acceptable. The activities or choices of people that may have been intolerable to others 50 years ago may now be widely acceptable, and laws need to evolve to accommodate the changes in society.
Old laws can become outdated and need to be reformed. The Government may bring in new laws in line with its policies, and sometimes new laws need to be made in order to act in accordance with international or European law.
When the Government introduces a proposed law it is called a Bill. Before it is put forward, there will be discussions with interested parties, such as pressure groups that may be campaigning on issues such as education or housing, or professional bodies such as the law society. The Government will set out its proposals in what is called a Green Paper. This is a discussion document designed to produce feedback and comments. The Government will then set out its definite proposals in a White Paper, which is then presented to the House of Commons. This is usually called a Public Bill.
Every so often individual Members of Parliament and Lords are allowed to present a Bill to Parliament on a subject that is important to them. This type of Bill is called a Private Member’s Bill. Only a minority of these Bills become law, but legislation may be affected indirectly by bringing awareness to certain issues.
Once a Bill is presented to the House of Commons it may have to go through a lengthy process before it is passed. During several readings of the Bill, votes are made and amendments are considered. In the final debate, if the Bill is passed it will then be handed to the House of Lords, where this process will be gone through again. Once the Bill is approved by the House of Lords it will then be returned to the Commons and the Prime Minister will present it to the Queen for her approval. She will sign the Bill, and it immediately becomes an Act of Parliament.
Sometimes matters need quick decisions, however, and the answer to this is delegated legislation. Acts of Parliament often give Government Ministers or other authorities the power to make regulations themselves for specified purposes. For example, under the Local Government Acts, a Local Authority has the power to provide services for the benefit of its constituents and to raise income and rates from other sources. These are called Bye-Laws. If Parliament did not give Local Authorities the power to make these decisions and apply them, then such changes would take place only by a new Act of Parliament, which could take some time.
The scope of delegated legislation is limited, however, in that it must be within the powers (intra vires) that have been bestowed upon the person or body enacting it. To avoid the risk of this system being undermined, such powers are usually delegated to those directly accountable to Parliament. In addition, the House of Lords Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee which formed in 1992 examines all Bills related to delegating powers before they are passed.
If you are interested in learning more and keeping up to date with what goes on in Parliament, you can visit its website at www.parliament.uk.